We’re all seeing more and more reports in the media about the increasing mental health problems among teenagers. At The Music Works, a Gloucestershire charity which transforms lives through music, we’re only too aware of this. Much of our work is with teenagers, and we see and hear about problems ranging from depression and anxiety to, self-harm and eating disorders.
Our Music Minds programme is one way in which we’re trying to support young people with mental health problems. It helps young people to cope by empowering them to consciously use music as a coping strategy, encouraging self-expression, self-awareness, relaxation and mindfulness.
So far we’ve been piloting the programme in two schools: Barnwood Park, and Severn Vale. The programme has been funded by Youth Music, NHS Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning, Gloucestershire Health Living and Learning and Make Music Gloucestershire and has been part of a national action research programme looking at how arts interventions could be commissioned as part of NHS services. We’ll soon be rolling the programme out more widely.
A promising start
The first phase of findings has shown that Music Minds has made a big difference to young people’s mental wellbeing. 96% of participants said the programme had indirectly helped their problems; 42% said it had helped quite a lot or a great deal; 37.5% said their problems had improved.
One young person was rock bottom in self-esteem. There were serious concerns about her behaviour, and she was in the top five of students in her school with the most challenging behaviour. Now, she is no longer a concern at all and staff attribute this change to Music Minds.
Responding to results
One of the important aspects of Music Minds is that is has been shaped by young people and teachers as it has progressed. Termly focus groups with students and teachers, where they share their experiences and ideas to help us to adapt and improve the programme. These sessions have shown that participants are taking conscious decisions to express or manage their feelings through music:
“I never really lashed out on other people but I’d punch a wall until my hands were physically bleeding. I’d isolate myself and block out everyone. I’d do everything I could to punish myself. This has shown me that I’m not the only one feeling this. I have major trust issues. This has helped me talk to people more. I can take everything I’m feeling and do it in a productive way through music.”
Relieving the pressure
They’ve said that their relationships have improved, they’re feeling better about themselves and they’re more able to cope with problems:
“It takes your mind off stress, it relieves you from, not your problems, they’re still there, it takes the ease off stress and expectations. Now we’re starting our GCSEs, there are a lot of expectations, a lot of pressure. In Music Minds you don’t need to make it A* grade, it can be whatever you want, you don’t have to do certain stuff to make it ‘right’.”
The increasing pressures on youth and mental health services has meant that many young people are slipping through the net and aren’t getting the support they need. Music Minds is a means to reach those young people, and empower them to help themselves before their problem becomes a crisis.